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Beyond GMAT Drills: Timing and Strategy

Posted in Test Prep on April 8, 2011 by

If all your GMAT prep so far has consisted of drills — Data Sufficiency drills, Sentence Correction drills, Problem Solving drills — then it’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Yes, drills can help improve your skills, but if you want to reach your goal score as efficiently as possible, you should also be looking at your timing and general strategy.

Check out these 6 timing and strategy tips guaranteed to jump-start your GMAT prep.

1. Don’t double check–just move on if you know you’re right.

Question difficulty can rise steeply, so you will need all the time you can get near the end. This means you should not waste any time confirming and double-checking your answers if you’re 95% sure about a choice. To the extent that you can minimize lengthy work on your scratch-paper, you’ll be able to shave key seconds off of your performance which could make the difference between seeing and not seeing the last two or three questions.

2. Look for short-cuts, but only on math!

Short-cuts are crucial if you want to have enough time to complete the entire exam, and they often involve a familiarity with numbers that can be cultivated over a long period. So develop a common sense about numbers and learn how to estimate answers without using arithmetic. Also learn how to plug-in values to test out answer choices and how to eliminate choices that are obviously wrong.

3. Read actively.

Although GMAT passages are seldom longer than 400 words each, they can feel longer because of obscure subject matter, convoluted syntax, compressed organization, and hard vocabulary. The key is to understand these challenges and expect to encounter them. Expect that you’ll be asked about MAPS, the “main idea,” “attitude of the author,” “purpose of the passage,” and “structure” of the passage. While you read, make note of anything which seems relevant to these areas, as this will make the questions easier for you to answer later. Do not try to memorize all the facts and details that are presented to you; instead, focus on understanding the conceptual skeleton of the passage and how ideas relate to each other logically.

4. Don’t take short-cuts in Critical Reasoning and Sentence Correction.

Certain test sections like CR and SC do not lend themselves well to short-cuts and skimming. You should approach these problems with an active, critical eye. You can’t trust your intuition with Critical Reasoning (it’s called “critical” for a reason) just as you can’t always trust your ear with Sentence Correction (some idioms you simply have to memorize). Even if you’ve always grasped grammar intuitively, it can be helpful to reacquaint yourself with the rules, so that when you see something your ear doesn’t recognize, you won’t be fazed. In other words, it can be beneficial to understand why something is wrong instead of just knowing that it’s wrong.

5. Know when to move on. Don’t expect the “perfect” test.

However much you prepare, there may still be something unexpected about the questions you encounter. It’s good to aim for perfection, but at the same time, recognize that however much studying you do, you won’t be able to eliminate the need to think on the spot. So don’t waste time with negative thoughts if you simply can’t get a question right or don’t know how to approach something!

Know that you do not have to answer every single question correctly even to score an 800; the test will increase in difficulty the better you perform, so expect it to feel like an “uphill climb.”

6. Finish the exam.

This could be the most important bit of advice we give you: finish the exam. You lose one point on your scaled section score for each question you do not answer. So if you were scoring a 41 on the math section and did not answer 2 questions, you would score a 39. Though it depends on the algorithm used to score your exam, this could mean the difference between, say, 58th and 52th percentile for the section.